In the few months since its theatrical release, Arrival earned additional credence – a film less about invaders from space and sci-fi than it is about communication and resisting fear. Seems apt. Amy Adams is stellar, reaching out to an alien race and accepting the possibility another culture is not here to harm, rather enlighten. It’s sensational work, uplifting, intelligent, and now, essential cinema. A modern classic.
Arrival falls outside the typical video critique – beautifully faded, low on contrast, and never once committing to something considered a black level. Little color seeps into the heavily graded cinematography, choosing instead to aim at the pale, lifeless palette rich with gray overcast. It’s all appropriate.
It’s softened too, allowing for a smidgen of fine detail on occasion and generally rather dull. Still, spectacular sights flow across the frame, using the resolution to produce textured walls, sharp computer screens, and digitally generated sights. Flashbacks tend to override much of this look, injecting strong saturation (if still monotone) and powerful depth.
Problems not sourced from the film’s gorgeously low-key aesthetic include a tremendous level of banding, connecting primarily to the fog behind the alien glass. Because of the reduction of contrast, black levels won’t hide additional banding visible in the shadows. It’s an aggressive issue and mars an otherwise uniquely stunning look. Frequent noise slips into the image too, although Paramount’s Blu-ray is capable of holding back the problem.
Resolution plays a tremendous role in Arrival, boosting facial detail to a significant degree over the standard Blu-ray. Strong, consistent definition highlights the UHD presentation, pushing high-frequency information. Stunning exteriors overcome the decidedly dull color Arrival uses, presenting impressive imagery even to those who don’t appreciate the unique cinematography.
Deepened black levels create dense imagery inside the alien pod, this without a loss of shadow detail. Although contrast overall remains pinched by design, blacks create the needed image density. When paired with the glare of computer monitors inside the base or the clouded whites behind alien glass, the sights manage an impressive balance. Note some of Arrival’s color grading tints the shadows for effect, leaving cool or warm hues behind.
It’s imperfect though. Banding still occurs in the haze/smoke of the ship. Prevalent noise persists for much of the runtime, gaining energy or lessening scene-to-scene. The jump in overall visual impact from the Blu-ray though (the detail jump cannot be overstated) easily offsets these concerns.
Welcome to your new subwoofer demo disc. Not only for the tremendous weight and power at the lowest end, but the variety of design involved. Jets pass by, delivering a blast from their engines. Aliens “speak” and flood the room with intense power. An explosion bursts free and swells with low-end might. A ride in a helicopter stays authentic, rotors strong as the headset conversation continues.
Oscars for both mixing and design come well deserved based on the DTS-HD 7.1 track (the same on both formats). Sweeping effects from the exotic score add a superb layer of dimension, never mind the flurry of activity from panning helicopters or general activity on base. Splits into the stereos maintain a consistent front soundstage too. Superlative work, with enormous range.
Principles of Time, Memory, and Language sounds like the title of a college textbook, but it’s a sharp 15-minute bonus feature on a disc full of them. Xenolinguistics stands as the best and longest (a half-hour) with insight from the short story’s author as well as filmmakers. A bit more typical, Acoustic Signatures (13:59) peeks in on the audio design, a look at the score following in Eternal Romance. Non-Linear Thinking lays out the editing process. It’s not a lot of bonuses (and shame there’s no commentary), but instead a quality over quantity scenario.
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A genuine piece of sci-fi. It’s absolutely telling that Arrival exists and even stronger at home given the changes in the political climate.
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